Amos 'n Andy (1951-1953) ... you don't hear much about this early 1950s show, and you'll probably never get to see it unless you purchase the home video editions (I bought the entire series on DVD off the internet for the price of $300).
Amos 'n Andy is a classic. Wonderful scripts and endearing characters portrayed by first-class early black actors. But in 1951, the program was not viewed this way by all Americans.
The program originated on radio (1928-1943) over WMAQ (Chicago), where it had a loyal following. Two white men (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) created and performed the title characters, pretending to be black, and the series kept generations laughing with delight.
The jump to television was made when the show premiered on CBS on June 28, 1951. The all-Black cast included Alvin Childress (Amos), Spencer Williams, Jr. (Andy), Tim Moore (Kingfish), Johnny Lee (Calhoun), Ernestine Wade (Sapphire), Amanda Randolph (Mama) and Horace Stewart, aka Nick O'Demus (Lightnin'). Gosden and Correll produced the television series.
Story-lines centered around the friendships between the Brothers of the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge Hall and the home life of George "Kingfish" Stevens and his wife Sapphire. Kingfish and Andy's actics were usually off-centered by the fairness, judgement and charm of cabdriver Amos Jones (a lesser character on the TV show than he had been on radio).
The Black community became insulted by the portrayals on Amos 'n Andy. At a time of emerging Civil Rights, the characters were seen as gullible, conniving and lazy. Looking at the show today, none of the plots were ever based on race; and in fact, Blacks were seen for the first time as doctors, lawyers and leaders in the community. The problem was in the balance. There were simply no other shows during this time period to compare against the characters on Amos 'n Andy. Civil Rights leaders saw Amos 'n Andy as "inappropriate", saying that it had to be taken off the air.
Due to the public outcry, CBS cancelled the Thursday night (8:30-9:00 PM) program after a two-year run. The last original episode aired on June 11, 1953. Immediately, reruns were released to syndication, where they consistenty received high ratings. But the NAACP continued to protest the racial stereotypes, and in 1966, Amos 'n Andy was withdrawn from program sales forever.
For those who feel that the Amos 'n Andy characters were shown as shiftless or lazy, they need to take another look at some of those characters they dismiss. Calhoun was an attorney; Amos, a taxi owner; Lightnin', a janitor; Kingfish drew a salary for being the Kingfish of the Lodge Hall. What's wrong with those jobs?
In ending this program in 1953, there would not be another Black-dominated television show until Cosby in the 1980s. Doesn't this add new meaning to the phrase "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face"?
The situation comedy was never intended to promote a particular race or region of people. Comedy was created to bring joy and make us laugh ... both of which Amos 'n Andy did in abundance.
Alvin Childress (Amos) once said:
"I didn't feel it [Amos 'n Andy] harmed the Negro at all. Actually the series had many episodes that showed the Negro with professions and businesses like attorneys, store owners and so on, which they never had in TV or movies before."
But perhaps Ernestine Wade (Sapphire) summed it up best when she said:
"I don't think people tune in a comedy show for an education. If it would have been a documentary, it would have been a different thing. People will scream about things they don't enjoy. Take The Grapes of Wrath or Tobacco Road. There was a lot of static about that. But those people really exist. Their names might not be the same, but their prototypes exist, and there's no need to deny the existance of something just because you don't like it."
Was Amos 'n Andy unflattering to Black Americans? Possibly. Did it stereotype the African American? Probably. Did it poke fun of an entire section of people? Absolutely. But no more than ...
* Ralph Cramden (The Honeymooners), Archie Bunker (All in the Family) & Gilligan (Gilligan's Island) did to white men;
Should these shows be forever banned because somewhere a man, a woman, a Southerner, a farmer, a Hispanic, etc. feels their people have been laughted at? HOLY MACKEREL! Where would it end?!
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